Friday, September 30, 2011

Targeting the non-Cons

During the Harper Conservatives’ time in power they railed against the long gun registry as being heavy-handed, unfair to duck hunters and farmers. “We must stop targeting law-abiding gun owners and instead focus our resources on real criminals,” was, and remains, a popular refrain. And now they’re going to make good on their promise to abolish the registry once and for all, although not without, I expect, milking it one last time for contributions from the party faithful.

James Moore iPodBut now, instead of going after the true believers the Harper Cons have a new target in sight – the young, urban, technologically comfortable who are the very antithesis of the stereotypical Con supporter. And they are targeting them with Bill C-11, The Copyright Modernization Act.

Now to be fair, this is much to applaud with this bill, including a reduction of the maximum damages that can be awarded for copyright infringement from $20,000 to a still draconian but much more reasonable $5,000. (That is per infringement, so if you are caught with 100 pirated movies on your laptop, you could be on the hook for a cool half mil.) And the bill clearly spells out how copyrighted material can be used by educators, students, individuals, and so on for non-commercial purposes without penalty. All good stuff.

But the problem with this bill is that it allows the use of DRM (Digital Rights Management) technology to trump the rights provided elsewhere in the act. So if you purchase a DVD you are legally entitled to copy that DVD onto as many devices as you own, say onto your iPad, your smart phone, and your computer for viewing. However, if the DVD is DRM encoded by the manufacturer and you break that code in order to make copies that you are legally entitled to have, you have just broken the law.

Another example. With the proliferation of e-readers many people are now purchasing digital books. If I crack the DRM encoding in order to be able to download the same book onto both my e-reader and that of my spouse, I will have broken the law, even though had I purchased a hard copy of that same book I could share it at will, with potentially hundreds of people. (Although I read somewhere that pocketbooks are really designed – paper weight, materials, glues, etc. – to be read something like 10 or 12 times before falling apart, thus limiting the publishers exposure and ensuring additional sales.)

Like the gun registry, it is extremely unlikely that the authorities will go after otherwise law-abiding citizens for removing the DRM from an e-book for personal use. So then one has to ask why it is even necessary to enact that capability in law. Some have posited that the reason is because that’s what the Americans wanted, and the Harper Cons toned down the penalties to try to make it more palatable to the young, urban, technologically competent Canadians who are most likely to want to share files among their many devices. Perhaps. But one thing for sure, it’s not the Con base that will protest.

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